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Masterpiece Theatre - Secret Life of Mrs. Beeton
Masterpiece Theatre - Secret Life of Mrs Beeton
Actors: John Albasiny, Philip Anthony, Maureen Bennett, Orla Brindle, Jim Carter
Director: Jon Jones
Genres: Indie & Art House, Drama, Television, Mystery & Suspense
NR     2007     1hr 25min

Just as Nigella Lawson and Martha Stewart have turned Americans and Britons into nations of wannabe domestic goddesses, the Victorians had their own preacher in the shape of Mrs. Isabella Beeton.

     
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Movie Details

Actors: John Albasiny, Philip Anthony, Maureen Bennett, Orla Brindle, Jim Carter
Director: Jon Jones
Creators: Ian Moss, Sue Wyatt, Jessica Pope, Katherine Lannon, Sue Smith, Kathryn Hughes, Sarah Williams
Genres: Indie & Art House, Drama, Television, Mystery & Suspense
Sub-Genres: Indie & Art House, Love & Romance, Television, Mystery & Suspense
Studio: Pbs (Direct)
Format: DVD - Color,Widescreen
DVD Release Date: 06/19/2007
Original Release Date: 01/01/2007
Theatrical Release Date: 01/01/2007
Release Year: 2007
Run Time: 1hr 25min
Screens: Color,Widescreen
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 25
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Languages: English

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Movie Reviews

The story behind the myth of Mrs. Beeton
Rebecca Huston | On the Banks of the Hudson | 06/03/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)

"It's odd, when you first move away from home, and suddenly, you're faced with running a household. Meals prepared, a home to keep clean and tidy and stocked, emergencies that happen and you're not sure if the professionals need to be called in, or can you handle it by yourself. There's a thousand questions that need to be answered, and if you were lucky (or smart) as a kid, you learned them when you were growing up. Even in this age of marvels, these answers can be elusive, and I wonder how much more so it must have been in our grandmothers and great-grandmothers times.

Welcome to the time of Mrs. Beeton, when England was firmly entrenched in the Victorian period of the nineteenth century, and the Industrial Revolution was creating a new middle class. Only thing was, many of these women who were the daughters and wives of these new households were suddenly full of questions about how to manage servants, what was expected socially, how to dress and everything that could possibly be imagined. And in a class conscious world, women were already expected to know how to do all this.

The film opens with an elegantly dressed woman observing a funeral. She has something about her that immediately catches our attention, perhaps it's the ready smile, or the clever look in her eyes. This, she annouces, is the funeral of a nobody, indeed, it's her own. And who is she? Why none other than Mrs. Beeton herself...

We first meet Isabella Mayson (Anna Madeley) as a young woman just returned from schooling in Germany. Eldest of an enormous brood of children and stepchildren, Bella's not quite so skilled in the gracious arts of a middle class girl, but she has a quick and clever mind, and when she meets the son of a family friend, it's love at first sight for them both.

But Sam Beeton (JJ Feild) isn't quite the match that her parents have hoped for. He's a struggling publisher, dabbling about in magazines, and they want to make sure that their Bella will be comfortable and happy. No marriage, it seems for Sam and Bella, unless Sam can keep her in a home and garden of her own. Soon enough, it seems that Sam has indeed fulfilled his promise, for Bella is wed and blissfully happy, in a cozy home in the London suburbs, and even a devoted maid, Ann (Siobhan Hayes) to help her set up housekeeping.

Bella isn't quite so certain of her skills, and she struggles with both cooking -- something she can't quite do, and being a helpmeet and wife for her Sam. One day she heads for his office in London, and discovers that he's out, and sets herself down and translates an article for his magazine, despite the protests of his assistant, Fred (Joseph Mawle). When Sam finally returns, he begins to realize what a real treasure he has in his Bella, and soon enough, she's become a writer for his magazine, The Englishwoman's Domestic Magazine, one of the first publications that was geared towards women, and the ancestor of all those lifestyle magazines so popular today.

But if their professional life was improving, there was a tragic secret at the heart of Sam and Bella's marriage, one that is destroying their family, and eventually will take all of their dreams.

The humour in this one is of the subtle sort -- watch for a riotous scene involving a turtle that Ann has brought from the market to be turned into soup. And Bella's own comments on what was expected of a good wife, and the reality of it, make for a good chuckle or two. Interspersed with this are tragedies of the worst sort, which Anna Madeley truly brings to life with convincing grief and sorrow. It's this blend of the happy and sad that makes this movie work so well.

One of the high points in this, besides Anna Madeley's acting, are the details in costuming and set design. I felt like I had actually stepped back in time, and while we do get to see the more sordid, grimy side of life, there's some truly beautiful sequences in here, and Jon Jones' direction is light enough to let the story speak for itself.

Those who are curious about Isabella Beeton should try to find a copy of Kathryn Hughes' biography, The Short Life and Long Times of Mrs. Beeton, which goes into more detail about the middle class women of Victorian England. Finally, if anyone is curious, Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management is still in print today, and there's been several modernized spin-offs that take some of her recipes and updated them for the modern cook.

While it is rather specialized in the subject matter, it's a thoughtful and evocative look at the past, and it's one that I happily recommend. There isn't a rating, but given some of the serious subject matter, I would suggest a PG-13, and leave it up to the parent's to decide if they want to let their children see it. Some sex is hinted at, and glimpses of London's underworld of prostitution and disease are present, but nothing is vulgar or vivid, either.

The DVD release is scheduled for mid-June 2007 and I will update this review if there is any need to do so once I have my own copy. And yes, that's the highest recommendation that I can give to this film, that I enjoyed it enough to want to add a copy to my own collection.

Happily recommended. Four and half stars, rounded up to five."
Great Story
Margaret Quirante | Joshua Tree, CA USA | 08/05/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)

"This could have been a downer, but because of the wonderful actress and personality of Mrs. Beeton (would be nice if she was really that smart, clever, funny and positive), it was very well enjoyable. All the actors were fantastic. Isabella Beeton was a remarkable woman and her perseverance against so many awful things was quite inspiring."
Portrait of an unconventional Victorian marriage
z hayes | TX | 04/15/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)

"Mrs Beeton's 1861 guide to running a household was popular among Victorian housewives, and her legacy lives on till today, though the format of her book has gone through lots of revisions since then. This Masterpiece Theatre offering paints a portrait of Mrs Beeton's life from her early courtship by Mr Samuel Beeton, marriage and business partnership with her husband till her demise. The narration interestingly enough is by Mrs Beeton [Anna Madeley] herself after her death.

Anna Madeley plays her role very convincingly, and though much of the story here is based on speculation, the story does not get far-fetched nor too droll. It is well-done and the casting is excellent.Anna Madeley is also the actress who played the role of Lucy Steele in the 2007 adaptation of Sense and Sensibility. There are many familiar actors in this production. JJ Field's who plays the role of Sam Beeton was also cast as Mr Tilney in the 2007 adaptation of Northanger Abbey, and the actress portraying Mrs Beeton's mother also played Caroline Bingley in the 1995 production of Pride and Prejudice.

The story itself centers around a young, ambitious and intelligent woman, Isabella, who follows her heart and marries Samuel Beeton, a publisher of not much means, and after deciding that she is not really made for the role of a housewife [something that was demanded by Victorian mores of the time], scandalises her conservative parents by going to work with her husband in his publishing business. They decide to publish a book on aspects of domesticity and which proves to be a big hit upon publication. Though their business partnership is harmonious and initially profitable, their domestic life is wrought with tragedies - Isabella suffers many miscarriages, and also loses some of her children [she conceives many children throughout her marriage] to sudden, inexplicable death. Only much later do we learn [after Isabella undertakes to research the symptoms and causes of her children's death and her husband's ill health] the real, shocking truth behind her misfortunes.

This is a rather well-made period drama that portrays domestic life in Victorian times as well as a woman's struggles during the time - to achieve some semblance of independence, career satisfaction as well as juggling the demands of motherhood and being a wife. Quite a revolutionary undertaking for a Victorian woman but in Anna Madeley's capable hands, Mrs Beeton is credibly portrayed. I did find the many asides [where the lead character addresses the viewer directly] to be a tad distracting, but it didn't detract too much from my enjoyment of the movie.

I would recommend this movie to fans of period dramas, with a warning. Though it does have some humor, the story itself is quite tragic. The movie has fine acting and wonderful sets and cinematography. All in all, a worthwhile viewing experience.

"
Period dramas
D. Lidstad | Twin Cities, MN | 08/06/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)

"I bought this particular video because it was a period piece. It was not exactly what I expected but I did enjoy it enough to decide to keep it and watch it again. It does tell an intriguing story in a very gentle way."